Excerpt from Ostrich by Matt Greene, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ostrich

A Novel

By Matt Greene

Ostrich
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  • Paperback: Aug 2013,
    336 pages.

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Being ill is a bit like forgetting Own Clothes Day.

(Analogies are also important in Composition because they help people relate things they don't understand to their own experiences (and to tell a good story, you need to write about things that not many people have experienced). Metaphors are just one type of analogy, but there are loads more you can use. Sometimes people don't even realize they're using a metaphor because they've heard it so often that they've forgotten that they're trying to relate to something they don't understand.

These are called dead metaphors, and there are some examples below:

1) Running water
2) Head Master
3) Flower bed

Dead metaphors prove that we can understand the world around us only by pretending that it's human and it behaves like us (which it isn't and it doesn't). That's why we pretend that chairs have arms and woods have necks and we're so used to doing it that we've forgotten that that's even a slightly weird thing to say (which is why you don't get extra marks for using dead metaphors in Composition).

When my doctor, Mr. Fitzpatrick, explained about my treatment he used an analogy. He told me to imagine that a suicide bomber had taken a group of innocent people hostage in Gamestation and that if we didn't stop him he was going to blow up the whole of the Harlequin Centre, which is the biggest shopping center in all of Hertfordshire. And then he told me that if we sent in a Specially Trained Armed Response Unit they would be able to "neutralize" the terrorist threat, however, they couldn't necessarily guarantee the safety of the hostages (who might accidentally get shot), but if we did nothing the terrorist would kill them all anyway, as well as everyone else in a 10-kilometer radius.

"And that's why we're sending in the SWAT team," he said. "That's why we're telling them Shoot to Kill."

And when I asked him why we didn't try negotiating with the suicide bomber first, he shook his head slowly like a cricket umpire and said, "It is our country's policy never to negotiate with terrorists."

(So I asked him what were the bomber's demands and he told me he didn't have any, which I told him was bullspit because the whole point of taking people hostage is getting your demands met, and if you didn't have any demands there would be no reason to take hostages in the first place. So then he told me that the terrorists hated our freedom and that actually the suicide bomber did have some demands after all, and did I want to hear what they were, because all they were was the systematic destruction of Western culture and the entire American way of life (because Mr. Fitzpatrick is American).

"And besides, even if we could negotiate with him— which we will not do— it wouldn't do us any good anyway, because let me tell you something about the terrorist mentality, let me school you here a second, son. The terrorist believes he has God on his side. The terrorist actually believes that when he gets up to heaven-knows-where there's seventy-two virgins waiting for him, and every last one of them, they're big-time murder fans — and do you know whose side they're on, cos it sure as bacon ain't Team Infidel."

(And then I asked what a virgin was, because this was two years ago and I was young and naïve (and Mr. Fitzpatrick told me that a virgin was a really good friend with a PlayStation 2). (Being a virgin is like growing up Caucasian in Hertfordshire. You are one long before you know there's a word for it.))

So then I asked Mr. Fitzpatrick why they had to shoot to kill and why they couldn't use rubber bullets and shoot to disarm, which would ensure the safety of the hostages, and he told me that the terrorist has a thick hide like a rhinoceros and that the rubber bullets would just bounce off him. (Which I took to be an insult to my intelligence, so I asked him where exactly he thought the terrorist was from, because if he was threatening everyone in a 10 kilometer radius that would suggest he had nuclear capabilities, which was extremely unlikely, unless maybe he came from North Korea, in which case he'd most likely be a Buddhist and not believe in heaven. And Mr. Fitzpatrick just said, "Exactly.")

Excerpted from Ostrich by Matt Greene. Copyright © 2013 by Matt Greene. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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